Dr. Hill and students

‘The Way of the Knife’

NY Times reporter to share insight into shadow wars at Sept. 20 event

Mark Mazzetti 382x255
Mark Mazzetti, New York Times correspondent

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Shadow wars waged by the CIA since the events of 9/11 are as much a part of American history as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and New York Times correspondent Mark Mazzetti says college students need to learn as much about them as possible.

“They need to know the history of these wars that have been waged for the past 15 years. It’s incredibly important that students learn what has happened and what will happen in the world they inherit,” says Mazzetti, author of “The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth.”

Mazzetti, whose reporting on the violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 2009, a year after he was a Pulitzer finalist for his reporting on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, will speak on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at Wofford College on “The Shadow War: The Secret Post-9/11 Conflicts and the World the Next President Will Inherit.” The 7 p.m. program, which is free and open to the public, will be in Leonard Auditorium in Main Building.

A book signing will follow the talk.

In his book, Mazzetti follows the transformation of the CIA and U.S. special operations forces into man-hunting and killing machines “in the corners of the world where large armies can’t go.” Originally created as a Cold War espionage service, the CIA now is “more than ever a paramilitary agency ordered by the White House to kill off America’s enemies.” His book “recounts the untold story of America’s shadow war, one that blurred the lines between soldiers and spies and lowered the bar for waging war across the globe. The new approach – carried out by CIA operatives and special operations troops – has been embraced by Washington as a lower-risk and cost effective alternative to the messy wars of occupation,” according to Amazon.com. He demonstrates in the book “the way of the knife has created enemies just as it has killed them.”

Mazzetti writes of such actions as the Pakistani government agreeing in 2004 to allowing drone attacks by the CIA in that country in return for the CIA’s assassination of a Pakistani militant, Nek Muhammad, who was not even a target of the United States. The “secret army” he writes about is partly the CIA and partly the special operations troops who have expanded their authorities and expanded their missions around the world. In the years since 9/11, the CIA increasingly has conducted killings and the military increasingly has conducted spy missions. “So, the secret armies are those who carry out these missions outside of declared war zones.”

The general public is mostly unaware of these shadow wars and the actions of the CIA, Mazzetti says, because “one of the characteristics of secret wars is that they are designed to be kept out of the spotlight and not create much public dissent. If you compare them to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, people are seeing the troops deploying and coming home, or being killed. From the government’s point of view, there’s a benefit to keeping these operations that don’t involve troops off of TV – out of sight, out of mind. They are built to last for whomever takes over (as president).”

While many people are happy not knowing, “as long as it doesn’t affect their lives,” Mazzetti says, these activities are not without repercussions for the country. “Even though these wars may seem like they are less costly – perhaps in the lives of troops – they have the potential for blowback and may radicalize certain populations, sowing the seeds for the future,” he says. “The danger is that we may be blindsided by the results down the road.”

The longer these shadow wars continue, the more the American public may become interested and begin asking questions and discussing them – the benefits and the costs, he says. “The trouble is that right now, it’s completely out of the political debate. The campaigns (of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump) aren’t talking much about foreign affairs and national security right now,” Mazzetti adds. “It’s only at the very surface-level that they’re even talking about it.”

The use of a drone strike to assassinate Nek Muhammad in Pakistan – someone who was not considered a “high-value target” for the United States – paved the way for the escalation of the drone wars, Mazzetti says. The strikes slowly increased from 2004 to 2008, when at the end of his administration President George W. Bush ramped up the strikes considerably, “and then, President Obama ramped it up even further.”

What the next U.S. president will do may depend on who is elected, but Mazzetti says it’s likely that Clinton or Trump would continue the program. “We got a glimpse of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and a member of the cabinet in the Obama administration, involved in counter-terrorism. It’s hard to say what her view will be as president, but all indications are that she would carry on with the policies of Obama, and perhaps be slightly more aggressive.”

As for Trump, Mazzetti says he’s a little more contradictory in his stances. “He’s very aggressive against terrorism and ISIS, but he also has an isolationist streak, so there are competing, contradictory stances.

“I do think that for certain, whoever is put in place will carry on the policies of Bush and Obama (in the shadow wars),” Mazzetti adds.

No matter who is president, Mazzetti thinks more transparency is needed. “These wars are built to remain secret, with as little information as possible getting out,” he says. “It’s the job of the press to try to get out as much information as possible, not just for the sake of exposing secrets, but to tell people what’s happening.”

Technology is making the role of whistleblowers and those who would share information with journalists more difficult, he adds, noting that every form of communication he uses now is encrypted if possible. “The things we’re all dealing with are not just discussions for reporters. It’s about how do we want to run our country. How much or how little secrecy do we want and how that impacts our ability to make informed decisions. These questions cut across all ideologies.”

In the context of the upcoming election and beyond, these are very big stakes, Mazzetti adds.

Mazzetti has covered national security from The New York Times’ Washington bureau since April 2006. Before joining The Times, he was a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, where he covered the Pentagon and military affairs from June 2004 until April 2006. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he has made several reporting trips to Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa. From 2001 through 2004, he was the Pentagon correspondent for U.S. News & World Report, covering defense and national security. He was a correspondent with The Economist, form 1998 until 2001. He is a graduate of Duke University and received a master’s degree from Oxford University.