What the American Special Operations and Intelligence community needs is a program which establishes these networks long before a crisis emerges. Positive steps have been made in this direction, but all fall short of maintaining long-term, consistent, and reliable intelligence gathering on a tactical level. This paper proposes a program which recruits willing Special Forces veterans and re-locates them to countries all over the world. They would not be going there on a mission, but rather they would be going there to live and work for the US government, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

These Americans would become part of what we will call the Jedburghs for 21st Century program or Jed-21. Jed-21 would recruit primarily from retired members of US Special Forces. Special Forces soldiers are the most qualified for this type of job due to their training in unconventional warfare, language proficiency, and experience in working by, with, and through indigenous peoples in austere environments. Jed-21 would have to be incentivized with an additional stipend. Pensions would have to continue to be paid and seed money would have to be provided so that the members could start business endeavors in their target countries. Once integrated into the local economy and culture, they would begin to build their networks.

Selection and training for Jed-21 operatives would be a fairly straight forward affair, as the individuals have already been selected and trained throughout their twenty or more years in Special Forces. Recruitment would be done through word of mouth in the Special Forces retiree community and retiring Special Forces members would be encouraged to look into Jed-21 as a retirement option.

Jed-21 would not be for every Special Forces soldier, of course. After years deployed abroad, many would be looking forward to a comfortable retirement and to spending more time with their families. However, single retirees would be more willing to move abroad and many would want to keep their hand in the Special Forces community and the type of work that they do, continuing to serve their country if in another capacity.

Once recruited, potential Jeds would be put through a 4-week training and familiarization course. Some old skill sets may need to be dusted off, technical and health matters may need to be attended to before overseas travel, and recruits would need to be read on and familiarized with the program concept. Program managers would attempt to tailor each member to their target country as best as possible. Some recruits may need more or specialized training depending on the country they are to insert into. Obviously, different approaches would be required for a Jed inserting into Iran as opposed to another inserting into Panama.

Some countries will be in high demand for Special Forces retirees looking to live abroad. Places like Thailand, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Poland are likely to be fought over. Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan may be less desirable by those looking for a comfortable lifestyle. That said, among the thousands of Special Forces veterans, there are plenty of adventurers who would accept the challenge of living and working in these countries.

To be clear, in most cases Jeds will not operate under official or non-official cover, but will insert on their own passports under their real names to establish legitimate businesses and conduct strictly legal activities. Unless the target country is one with which the United States is at war, their goal upon insertion is not to begin targeting. They will not be participating in anti-government activities in the countries that they are to live in.

Once selected and trained, Jed-21 members will be inserted into their target countries. Jed-21 should start with a pilot program of a half-dozen operatives, sending each man to a different country around the world. The pilot program will iron out any difficulties prior to Jed-21 going fully active. Delta Force, ISA, and virtually every other Special Operations unit experienced problems and failures, such as Desert One, prior to becoming the units that they are today. Once fully activated, the Jed-21 program would have the goal of inserting one operative into each of the world’s approximately 180 (depending on who is counting) countries. The United States government may decide that some countries need more attention than others, and over the long-term it may be seen as preferable to infiltrate multiple Jeds into problem areas of the world, like Somalia, Iran, or Pakistan.

After being inserted into their target country, the 21st Century Jeds will get to work, albeit slowly, consistently, and deliberately. This is not a short-term mission to gather some specific targeting intelligence, but rather a mission that includes not only cultivating long-term relationships with the community, but also becoming a valued member of that community. Jed-21 relies on the human-centric approach of a seasoned veteran Special Forces soldier.

Over time, Jed-21 members would create businesses in their target country, employ locals, and integrate into the local economy and society. They would identify key logistics lines throughout the country. If they do not find them, they will attempt to open a business which creates said logistics lines. Human networks will be slowly built and cultivated. The former Special Forces soldiers would conduct OPE throughout the country for Special Operations, or even conventional forces which may need to conduct operations in that nation months, years, or decades later.

Jeds will also prepare to conduct unconventional warfare, warfare of the type that their namesake was known for in World War Two. They will identify how to sabotage key infrastructure if the need arises. They will identify who can build weapons in local factories. They can also cache military supplies for future use. However, Jed-21 would emphasis improvising on the ground and working with what is already at your disposal. For instance, does the target country have a commercial SCUBA diving business or a commercial skydiving facility? If not, can the Jed open one? How can commercial SCUBA and skydiving equipment be modified to used as a military infiltration technique by a Jed and host nation counterparts? What commercially available technology can be taken off the shelf and used to gather signals intelligence?

Jeds would put all of the pieces in place needed to conduct an unconventional campaign if the US government required it at some future date, and also would prepare the environment for Special Operations Forces if that need arose as well. This way, the infrastructure for both Special Operations and Unconventional Warfare is already in place years, if not decades, prior to it being needed. This level of long-term forward thinking will result in intelligence information which is more accurate, timely, and consistent, allowing policy makers a much greater range of options in addressing international security crisis and allowing military force to be used in much more surgical manners which limit damage and casualties on both sides of the conflict.

One friction involved in standing up a program like Jed-21 is the feasibility of projecting influence of this nature across the entire world. As mentioned previously, other OPE initiatives are limited in scope and do not maintain long-term pervasive presences overseas.

Some countries have cultures and national styles that appear to lend themselves better to unconventional warfare more so than the United States. Iran uses Quds Force and Hezbollah to project influence and maintain networks. China works through the Third Department of the People’s Liberation Army to maintain influence throughout the pacific rim and beyond. However, these countries seem to maintain mostly regional influence rather than global influence, as the Jed-21 program would. Allied nations like Britain and France maintain overseas intelligence networks, but these are also somewhat regional in scope and usually based in former colonies where they have the home field advantage. France may provide a helpful example for Jed-21 as it has been alleged that the French use former members of the French Foreign Legion as long-term overseas intelligence assets throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.

Jed-21 will have significant hurdles to overcome in the early years. Inserting over 180 operatives into somewhere around 180 countries is a large-scale project. However, the intent from the beginning is to maintain a light footprint in each country, with minimal overhead in regards to logistics and funding that the operatives require from their handlers in the United States. The Jed-21 concept is that the operatives work in a decentralized manner and are self-reliant. The program will probably have to provide some seed funding for the operatives to help get established in their target countries, but within a few years the operative should be self-sufficient. Self sufficiency should be one of the metrics used to judge an operative’s level of success, and if they do not achieve this within a few years, they should be replaced with someone more creative and resourceful.

Jed-21: Beyond Counter-Terrorism (Part 2)

Read Next: Jed-21: Beyond Counter-Terrorism (Part 2)

Once the growing pains in Jed-21 are over, the program will become institutionalized and become an entrenched part of the US government’s intelligence gathering apparatus. Jed-21 will be multi-generational in scope. As operatives pass away and have to come back to the US, they will be replaced with younger Special Forces veterans. If the operative has married and had children in their target country, then their kids would be looked at as viable replacements. Jed-21 will require very little funding and maintenance over the long-term and will provide a significant return on investment for the Special Operations community.

Perhaps more so than feasibility, the real challenge to Jed-21 will be bureaucratic and legal in nature. For instance, there are already two venues under which agents are run under Non-Official Cover: one at the CIA and another at the DOD. Other programs exist for running intelligence assets. The fear of a duplication of capabilities within the intelligence and defense establishment may prevent Jed-21 from getting off the ground as many will see it as encroaching on their territory. To this end, it must be made clear that Jed-21 is a new capability and does not take away missions or tasks from other agencies.

Legally, the debate of Title 10 versus Title 50 is going to haunt the Jed-21 program. The military normally works under Title 10 authorities to conduct operations, while the CIA uses their Title 50 authorities to conduct covert operations. The military gets around these restrictions which preclude them from many intelligence related activities by classifying their activities as OPE. Units like ISA conduct OPE, which is considered to be directly related to combat operations, as they are simply doing intelligence gathering to support the military under Title 10. However, OPE and the covert activities of the CIA often look identical to each other.

Furthermore, both the military and the CIA have been exploiting a loophole in the law which allows Special Operations to conduct missions under Title 50 authorities. The way this is done is that JSOC will notionally hand operational control of their units over to the CIA, and while placed under the auspices of Central Intelligence (Wall, 2), JSOC operators can now conduct covert operations which would otherwise be illegal.

The very real concern exists that JSOC operators can be “sheep dipped” and used as CIA assassins. In this manner, the CIA gets to act as gate keeper to coveted Title 50 authorities, blessing off on JSOC operations that they want to green light. On the other hand, JSOC gets their operators out on missions which capture or kill high value targets, the type of missions from which JSOC derives credibility and legitimacy. These types of operations may be technically legal, but they exploit a loophole which Congress has turned a blind eye to so as not to upset operations during a time of war.

Due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq winding down, elected leaders becoming more aware of the Title 10/50 loophole, and because the media is likely to expose further indiscretions on the part of JSOC, it is highly likely that this legal loophole will be closed in the coming years. Jed-21 will be directly impacted by this issue and it will have to be decided under what authorities the program operates under. Is it Title 10 or Title 50?

The controversial nature of the legal loophole makes it unlikely that it will be able to masquerade as both. However, having a clearly defined tasking and authority is a good thing for Jed-21. The military and intelligence communities have relied on novel interpretations of the law, legal loop holes, and willfully skirting around the intent of the law for far too long. “The Title 10-Title 50 debate is the epitome of an ill-defined policy debate with imprecise terms and mystifying pronouncements,” (Wall, 86) and this gray area will not be allowed to continue as is much longer. Jed-21 and the rest of SOF should operate under clear authorities given to them by lawmakers.

Preferably, Jed-21 would in fact operate as an open source intelligence mechanism that does not fall under Title 10 or Title 50. The program could be privatized and run in a quasi-official manner if need be. Jeds would live off their pensions along with a stipend as needed in the early years and would be traveling on their civilian passports. They would not have a cover; their backstop is their real life. In the 21st century, old methods of espionage are becoming obsolete. The new covert is overt.

The process of standing up Jed-21 faces profound challenges, particularly in the early years as the program would struggle to identify operatives, insert them, fund them, and as the program works to attain legitimacy within the US defense establishment. However, the great dividends which it can provide would be unprecedented. The intelligence value Jed-21 would provide to SOF, intelligence agencies, and defense planners should not be underestimated. Compared to other defense programs, Jed-21 would also require relatively low funding in the early years, and perhaps no funding over a longer time horizon. This may be important in a time when the Pentagon is facing increasing austerity measures.

Whether Jed-21 is accepted or rejected as a program is a matter for experts in the field of Special Operations and Intelligence gathering. What should not happen is for Jed-21 to be swept aside and shelved rather than discussed. The reasons for this are enshrined in the “SOF truths” (Special Operations Command) which state that quality SOF cannot be mass-produced or created in response to an emergency. As Charlie Beckwith wrote, it takes years to insert an asset and get them to a point where they are producing valuable intelligence. By the time a war breaks out in the South China Sea, or an Oil Refinery in Algeria is taken over by terrorists, it is already too late to start from scratch. The Jedburgh concept should be dusted off today because long-term sustainable relationships are just that, not a knee jerk response to an emergency.

American Special Operations Forces should be forward thinking and deliberate in their actions as opposed to letting the enemy dictate the terms of the battle. Modern-day Jedburghs will help America move beyond counter-terrorism and begin the process of getting inside and disrupting the enemy’s decision-making process by utilizing intimate local knowledge and capitalizing on long-term rapport built in the host nations in which they will live.


Beckwith, Charlie. Delta Force. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983.

Eagle Claw veteran, Special Ops Aviator receives 2013 Bull Simons Award.” Bottoms, Mike. May, 22 2013. Web.

Irwin, Will. The Jedburghs. Public Affairs, 2005.

Smith, Michael. Killer Elite. St. Martin’s Press, 2006.

SOF Truths.” www.soc.mil. n.d. Web

Wall, Andru E. “Demystifying the Title 10-Title 50 Debate: Distinguishing Military Operations, Intelligence Activities, and Covert Action.” Havard Law School National Security Journal, 2011.

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