The Debate Over “Imminent Threats” is Yet Another False Narrative

by | Jan 14, 2020 |

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The U.S. Can Strike Iran and its Proxies When Necessary – here is why?
First, it must be understood the current debate and argument that there is growing inconsistency in the decision to strike and take-out Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s elite paramilitary group, the Quds Force is being orchestrated and driven by the mainstream media in a significant and massive effort. So much so that many supporters and even conservative minded outlets are going along with the narrative to some degree.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday said that the U.S. has the Constitutional authority to strike Iranian proxies in Iraq and Iran on its home soil in retaliation for attacks on American forces. Secretary Esper further noted that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) Resolution gives the U.S. military the right to attack Iranian-backed proxies in Iraq. He said the president’s power under Article II of the Constitution would allow the U.S. to strike Iran in the event that U.S. forces or interests were are targeted by Iran.
As I conveyed in my last article, while U.S. and Iranian officials have both indicated that the possibility of such a confrontation has greatly diminished, under the effort to de-escalate the situation, understand that the region is still being closely monitored. The U.S. holds Iran responsible for both its and its proxies’ actions, and the U.S. will retain the right to exercise self-defense and take action where legally available and appropriate to hold those proxies accountable for their actions.
In recent days⏤further indication that intelligence of impending attacks was based on ‘nested’ communications and on intelligence derived by Iran backed militia forces. The Defense Secretary doubled down on the administration’s position that the U.S. killed the powerful Iranian general and Quds Force Commander Soleimani and did so strictly out of self-defense. Understand the fact the “There was complete agreement based on what he had done and what he was planning to do, the broader attack that he was orchestrating in the region that would be bigger in scale and would likely result in open hostilities, that Soleimani was a compelling target to take-out.
Those that follow me on America Out Loud, know that I always speak to the strategic and the strategic imperative in relation to national security and military operations as applicable. That said, in the strategic aftermath in the targeting of General Qasem Soleimani, the United States is safer today than we were a few weeks ago totally and primarily because we eliminated the world’s foremost terror, Soleimani, who has the blood of hundreds of American soldiers and Marines on his hands, in addition to tens of thousands across the Middle East and Africa, at the least. The second strategic aspect of the fatal strike on Soleimani has also “reset deterrence” with Iran.
The false narrative driven by the non-Trump supporters and the mainstream media that I referenced is very clever in that it suggests the Trump administration has struggled to clarify what exactly the “imminent threat” was that justified the killing of Soleimani.
Despite President Trump and a number of his senior national security officials seemingly offering inconsistent public statements about what kind of imminent threat the U.S. was facing, those of us who understand intelligence know the validity, accuracy, and likelihood of every threat playing as indicated. But we know it only takes one target to be accurate. Those of use familiar with and or have received validation of the intelligence can agree that the intelligence agencies involved and the intelligence provided is the Pentagon had very accurate intelligence and a very thorough explanation for targeting the designated terrorist General Soleimani.
In the intelligence business we are always aware that the terrorist don’t have to be accurate and for the most part own the time and place. We the U.S., always have to be right and always have to be accurate. Secondly, we always must approach terrorism from the standpoint that the risk of doing nothing, the risk of inaction, is always greater than the risk of action. In the case of Soleimoni, the intelligence we had was very compelling. The challenge here is we were dealing with very exquisite information⏤information that if we were to lose those sources and methods, we would lose insights into the thinking of the Iranian government. The other imperative, is that 99 percent of the people don’t and will never understand or grasp the impact of losing the “always used cliché – sources and methods.” This of course is the extremely important justification used exclusively by the intelligence community to protect the direct and deliberate intelligence persons or things and activities. The reason being is that it are those capabilities that provide the vital and critical information necessary to confirm, validate, and identify enemy targets, actions, activities, and or operations⏤be they intelligence, operational, or political and demonstrate specific threats. 
It is these threats that subsequently rise to the top that are determined to be and described as ‘Imminent’ meaning imminent immediate harm or danger which varies depending on the context which it is defined or used. It is this term “imminent” which is being questioned as the basis for the Trump administration for killing General Soleimani. 
Understand for the record, several widely used dictionaries have differing but highly similar definitions of “imminent”:

  • “Ready to take place: happening soon,” says Merriam Webster.
  • “About to happen; impending,” offers Dictionary.com.
  • “Likely to happen very soon,” reads the Cambridge Dictionary.

There are those on the political-left, the mainstream media and again Establishment Republican circles and NeverTrumpers, and the supporting doubters siding on the fence always looking for a reason to once and for all see Trump fail or to abandon him. They claim that Trump’s justification for the attack on the Iranian General is “undefined”.
Nevertheless, that undefined position “the imminent threats” played out in the days after the Soleimani strike, where the U.S. led military coalition forces fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria was temporarily suspended, with defense officials citing attacks on Iraqi and U.S. bases over the last two months as the reason for the shift. Obviously, the threat was coming from Iranian forces and or its proxies in the region, hence Shiite militia groups in Iraq.
In an effort to explain and to justify President Trump’s decision to have Iran’s top general killed in a drone strike, Trump’s national security leadership favored the same adjective to describe the “imminent” danger that prompted the taking-out of General Soleimani.
On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared, “There is no doubt that there were a series of imminent attacks that were being plotted by (Iranian general) Qasem Soleimani,” going on to say; “We don’t know precisely when, and we don’t know precisely where, but it was real.” After which a White House reporter informed Pompeo that not knowing precisely when and where was not the definition of “imminent.” Pompeo did not back down, following up with “We had specific information on an imminent threat, and those threats included attacks on U.S. embassies.” “Period, full stop.” In another try, Pompeo, was asked, by another reporter, “what is your definition of imminent?” … “This was going to happen. American lives were at risk.”
What those outside the intelligence and national security community fail to understand is the criticality of revealing the actual, again sources and methods that were used to obtain the specific intelligence that identified the actual threat. And one does not even need to say the capability or multiple capabilities that were used to gather the specific information and sources that were collected on to obtain that information.  
Understand that just revealing the date, time and place of an Iranian conducted or one of its proxy forces executing an attack is enough for the Tehran regime to know how that information was put out, who it was given to, and who knew the operational plan or mission at hand. Whether it was from a spy, via secure radio, electronic computer emissions, multiple Iranian generals talking via cell phone (which provides validity), or a combination of multiple capabilities targeted for collection; HUMINT, ELINT, COMMINT, IMAGERY, etc. the Iranians, like any other country will be able to reverse engine our specific explanation and revelation and lockdown, sequester, jail or kill that source and or capability that allowed the U.S. to obtain that information. That means that the sources and methods used to obtain that informational intelligence will be rendered useless forever. It means the resources used to obtain that information was wasted, and it would likely mean people would die. It could also mean further retaliation against U.S. forces, the U.S. homeland, allies or other type of retribution.
As a career senior intelligence officers, when the U.S. uses the term imminent threat, it is rare, it is serious and the precautions required to protect against such attacks must be implemented. 
Look, Soleimani was, in fact, planning “imminent attacks. While Democrats, the mainstream media and the Trump haters and doubters quibble over its definition, ask the question of yourself⏤When Obama killed bin Laden, al-Awlaki (an American citizen), and Gaddafi, without Congressional approval, there were NO ‘imminent attacks’ and Democrats did not ask or care, what anyone thought, in fact they spiked the football. In fact, in the case of Gaddafi, innocent Libyans died. And worse in the case of bin Laden members of SEAL Team 6 died! That was a post-attack, major Operation Security (OPSEC) violation by Big Mouth moron Joe Biden. Biden revealed the “method” used to kill bin Laden, which was SEAL Team 6 which was a classified covert mission. As a result, as much as I hate to use this as an example, it is a sterling example of revealing highly classified intelligence and operational information. Unfortunately, and sadly, even when it is the Democrats own administration they don’t care, proving they care even less if it is a Republican administration.
As a side note, from the standpoint of specifics, Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi was killed by his own compatriots, who learned through security leaks and violations, while both Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki were killed under a broad authorization approved by Congress for using military force against perpetrators or collaborators in the September 11th attacks. Still, what Trump administration officials mean when they say “imminent” could be more than simply a question of semantics. Further, the word “imminent” appears several times in the 1973 War Powers Resolution, a document that lays out the ground rules for presidents seeking to send U.S. forces “into hostilities or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances.”

Regardless of whether their attacks are ‘imminent’⏤the preemptive attack was legitimate for the President to use lethal force without congressional authorization absent proof that Soleimani was on the cusp of killing Americans⏤or, better, killing even more Americans.

Unfortunately, we are dealing with legal anomalies, and that’s where the political-left want to take us and use it as a back drop to attack or be used against President Trump.
Let me offer the following example to address this case. Terrorists successfully detonated an explosive, as they did in the 1993 WTC attack (killing six and, injuring hundreds of Americans, while also causing massive property damage). The U.S. has a bombing statute that prescribed an appropriately severe penalty⏤life imprisonment. But there was no federal bombing-conspiracy statute. Consequently, any bombing plot had to be charged under the catch-all federal conspiracy statute. Generally applicable to less serious offenses, it makes sundry conspiracies punishable by no more than five years, and as little as no imprisonment. What this is saying is that, in other words, if jihadists killed a few people, you could put them away forever; but if they were stopped while plotting to kill 10,000 people, the penalty was illusory. In effect⏤our investigators were penalized for doing their jobs well. So if our intelligence professionals and military operators, and the leaders and commanders that command them do their job well and identify a likely attacker, and terminate them. That’s questionable, specifically if the Commander-in-Chief is a Republican.
The foolishness of today’s debate over whether a suspected attack is sufficiently imminent to warrant responding with force. Consider the perverse incentive this political and legal framework has created. The questioning of the labeling a threat imminent has created a slippery slope where this could lead to a mindset where we nevertheless encourage the terrorists to let the plot or attack continue, right up to the moment before execution if possible, to ensure that a “substantial step” had been proved, where we can say see⏤then launch the counter-strike. Just image how that would turn out. This is one reason that international terrorism is best regarded as a military threat. 
In neutralizing terrorists and their state sponsors, the venerable law of war is a necessary complement. In fact, one of many reasons is that, when an enemy is making war on the United States, there is no need to wait for an attack to be imminent in order to justify a defensive, preemptive strike. General Soleimani was an enemy combatant commander for the Iranian regime and the jihadist terror networks it uses in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere around the world for that matter.

For more than 40 years, Iran has unabashedly pronounced itself as at war with the United States. It has conducted major attacks that have killed hundreds of Americans. In just the past few weeks, Iran’s jihadist militias attacked American bases in and around Baghdad eleven times.

In the end, there were adequate reports of intelligence indicating that Soleimani was planning more attacks in the near term are surely credible. Legally, though, this is beside the point. Soleimani was a proper target regardless of the evidence that any new attack was imminent.
So, for me the real question is: Why is imminence even an issue? This is not a close call. We are talking about one of the most notorious mass-murderers of Americans in history, the top combatant commander of the radical regime in Tehran that proudly tells the world its motto is “Death to America.” Why would we want to raise an abstruse question that would make eliminating such a monster more difficult?
Remember this too, in the Obama years, Democrats were happy to line-up in support of unprovoked U.S. attacks on Libya. The use of lethal force was not authorized by Congress and Americans were not being threatened. Now, because President Trump is at the helm, they want to quibble over whether the latest Iranian atrocities and U.S. intelligence and our military operators were a sufficiently flashing neon sign that more atrocities were imminent? That is irresponsible.
It is more than obvious, Democrats and their surrogates make themselves heard only when one of their own is in the White House. Right now, though, we need to pull together as a united front against an Iranian enemy that could not be clearer about its murderous intentions, all by design.
Yes, we’re in a period of extreme partisanship. That said there is no excuse for playing politics with our National Security. But understand this and understand it well⏤enemy combatant terror commanders are fair game in the war on international terrorism!

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Jim Waurishuk is a retired USAF Colonel, serving nearly 30-years as a career senior intelligence and political-military affairs officer and special mission intelligence officer with expertise in strategic intelligence, international strategic studies and policy, and asymmetric warfare. He served as a special mission intelligence officer assigned to multiple Joint Special Operations units and with the CIA’s Asymmetric Warfare Task Force and international and foreign advisory positions. He served as Deputy Director for Intelligence for U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) during the peak years of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Global War on Terrorism.

Waurishuk is a former White House National Security Council staffer and a former Distinguished Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council, Washington, D.C. He served as a senior advisor to the Commander U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and served as Vice President of the Special Ops-OPSEC.

Currently, he is the Chairman of the Hillsborough County (FL) Republican Executive Committee and Party and serves on the Executive Board of the Republican Party of Florida.

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